WHAT was supposed to be the end of the world in the Mayan apocalyptic prophecy was just the beginning of a new life for a young couple.

While the Thomasian community reveled under the magnificent pyro-musical during the annual UST Paskuhan last Dec. 21, Johannes Cortez dropped to his knees in front of his girlfriend Diana Bacual at the rooftop of the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex to ask for her hand in marriage, as their close friends watched with mouths agape.

Starting off as friends nine years back and being classmates at the College of Education, Cortez, 34, and Bacual, 27, never imagined being in a relationship together.

After ending a seven-year relationship in 2007, Cortez said that Bacual’s own commitment to her boyfriend for eight years was the greatest challenge he faced in pursuing his love for her.

“It’s really hard to pursue someone who has a boyfriend. As I’ve said, if I don’t end up with her, it will be okay for me to grow up alone,” he said.

But as fate would have it, Cortez and Bacual, after some failed relationships each with their previous partners, they ended up together.

“It was as if we once again found ourselves empty and longing for something that has been there but never really acknowledged,” Bacual said.

Meant to be

Their deep friendship began in 2005 when they were placed under the same group for a course requirement in education. Cortez was an irregular student in Bacual’s class.

“That’s when we really became close,” he said. “Every time we went to practicum, we were always together.”

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Soon the friendship blossomed into romance.

“I could not actually recall when the courting started. We just eventually realized how we loved each other during the times that we found ourselves free from our failed relationships,” she recalled.

‘Big’ surprise

Two years into the relationship, Cortez felt it was to take it to the next level.

The Paskuhan festivities gave the perfect opportunity. Since he was on vacation for the whole month of December, he knew both of their family and their friends would be on hand to witness the event.

Cortez initially planned to propose atop the Main Building, complete with music and a red-carpet entrance. He was denied.

“I never thought of an option. When I was disapproved, they suggested the fourth floor with the statues of saints,” Cortez said. “They gave me the area around Benavides Statue, but I said there were so many people there. So I thought of Plan B.”

With time running out, he went for the TARC building and thought that since he worked there, his associates could provide some assistance.

Amid all the preparation, he entertained the idea of being turned down.

“I was nervous. I couldn’t focus during our Christmas party because I was preparing [for the proposal]. There was no backing out,” he recalled.

But Bacual eventually said “yes” and they’re now preparing for the big wedding.

“Her mother and sister cried. But my girlfriend just laughed,” he said.

Bacual said she was surprised and overwhelmed.

“I was not expecting such an extravagant proposal could be pulled off by him, but he actually did in the midst of the multitude,” she said.

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Indeed, it was unexpected even for someone who’d been used to regularly getting a bouquet of her favorite flowers, on top of personal messages on Skype and Facebook.

“I don’t want to be contented in what I have because it really is a different thing when you love someone. I changed all of my perceptions in life,” Cortez said.

Cortez and Bacual plan to tie the knot in January next at the Santisimo Rosario Parish Chapel where they usually attended Masses.

Bacual said that she prayed Cortez would continue to be the honest and simple person she had known since.

“As we grow old together, we will be watching our children and our children’s children live to retell our wonderful story with all its triumphs and difficulties,” Bacual said.

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